Foreign buyers of Hong Kong homes help drive price rebound

A surge in purchases of Hong Kong homes by non-residents offers one explanation for what’s driven an 11 per cent rebound in property prices from a March bottom.

In September, 250 homes were sold to non-resident foreigners, the most in 14 months and 36 per cent higher than the average for the previous four months, according to data from Hong Kong’s Inland Revenue Department. That compares with a low of 62 homes going to foreign buyers in February, just before the nadir of Hong Kong’s property market. While the revenue department does not give a breakdown on nationality, analysts and developers say mainland Chinese are the biggest foreign buyers.

“From the non-local pool, Chinese buyers certainly played a starring role,” said Ryan Lam, Hong Kong-based head of research at Shanghai Commercial Bank Ltd. “And they are more eager to step into the Hong Kong property market lately” given the prospects for a further depreciation in the yuan.

Chinese investors are flocking to property overseas as overheated markets in cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen are spurring regulators to impose curbs to rein in prices. Buyers are also attracted to Hong Kong’s pegged exchange rate to the dollar as a hedge against a weakening yuan.

“The renminbi’s continued depreciation and mainland property controls are making mainland buyers eager to come to Hong Kong,” said Sammy Po, head of the residential department at Midland Realty International Ltd at a briefing on Oct 17. “Besides, Hong Kong developers provide tax subsidies to accelerate mainland buyers to step into the Hong Kong market,” he said, referring to incentives offered by developers to help foreign buyers offset added stamp duties.

Mr Po said that mainland buyers accounted for 31 per cent of property purchases of homes worth at least HK$20 million (S$3.58 million) in the second quarter. According to data from Centaline Property Agency, Chinese buyers accounted for 16.3 per cent of all purchases by value in the second quarter, the most since the fourth quarter of 2012, before a 15 per cent surcharge on foreign buyers was imposed.

To be sure, foreign buyers are still a small part of Hong Kong’s overall residential market, where transactions jumped to a 15-month high in September with 7,826 transactions. Of those, 3,474 were new properties offered by developers including Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd and Henderson Land Development Co. China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd sold all 300 apartments at a project restricted to Hong Kong residents near the site of the city’s former airport.

Ricky Wong, managing director at Wheelock Properties (Hong Kong) Ltd said earlier this month that mainland buyers were undeterred by the extra taxes they face when buying properties in Hong Kong. He noted that these buyers accounted for nearly 20 per cent of September sales at its Kowloon development One Homantin, compared with about five percent when it launched six months earlier.

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